Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | December 26, 2006

As the dialog turns…

It’s been fascinating to watch the exchange that’s been going on in the comments section from the piece that I posted last week regarding the conference in Herzliya. The comments are still trickling in – both here and on the cross-post over at Good Neighbours – and it’s interesting to see how the threads develop differently on each site. For the most part, it has been a true dialog, and I’ve been very impressed that most of the commenters have maintained a degree of civility and respect, though of course, that hasn’t always been the case (especially in comments on other blogs, where I have been referred to as an idiot, my blog has been renamed as nothing nothing, and one person has referred to some of my blogging colleagues as a “sorority of North American aliyah blogger friends” – not sure where that leaves you, Don). Particularly annoying are those who feel the need to explain the situation to us, as if we don’t truly understand what’s “really” happening, or those I mentioned above who feel the need to resort to name-calling, simply because we do not agree with their opinions.

While following all of the exchanges and directions that the subject of howIsrael’s PR should be handled and the role it plays in forming Israel’s reputation has taken, I came across the following article written by Larry Derfner, which appeared in The Jerusalem Post Online edition on December 6th. The piece touches upon many of the points I raised in my post, addressing the need for core-level PR policy changes as opposed to simply continuing to intensify a policy that – in my opinion – just doesn’t work.

Rattling the Cage: The hype that failed
Larry Derfner,
THE JERUSALEM POST

Dec. 6, 2006

Nobody and nothing in the world has an army of advocates, defenders, PR people, marketers, spin-meisters and image-polishers like Israel has. This army isn’t made up just of the government, but of Jews and Judeophiles all over the world, especially in the US. It includes the entire alphabet soup of American Jewish organizations, right-wing “media watchdogs” like CAMERA and Honest Reporting, hundreds of Jewish newspapers and Web sites, Alan Dershowitz, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Republican Party, the Christian Right, FOX News and an assortment of other forces.

Yet despite this incredible mobilization, Israel’s image, its “brand,”
couldn’t be in worse shape. The latest evidence comes from a polling
organization called Nation Brands Index, which asked over 25,000 consumers worldwide their impressions of 36 different countries, and found that Israel finished 36th, at the bottom – by a wide margin.

Most Jews, I think, would blame these results on anti-Semitism, on hostile foreign media coverage of Israel, and on Israel’s incompetence at making its case to the world. The solution, most Jews would probably say, is to redouble the hasbara effort, to find winning personalities and persuasive voices to carry Israel’s banner, to come up with fresh angles and arguments, to speak with “one voice,” to stay “on message”; and, at the same time, to “rebrand” Israel as a land not of war, but of beautiful beaches, dazzling nightlife, Nobel scientists and violin virtuosos.

I find this to be a self-righteous attitude, typical of the staunchly “pro-Israel” community, and also pathetic because it has led, and will continue to lead, to nothing but failure.

So long as Israel is seen in the media beating the crap out of Arabs,
especially Arab civilians, it will be judged a bully, and nobody likes a bully. So long as Israel inflicts many, many times more damage on its enemy than it suffers at the enemy’s hands – as was the case in Lebanon – Israel will come out looking bad. As long as Israel fights by the principle of dozens upon dozens of eyes for an eye – as it has been doing in Gaza – Israel will remind the world not of David, but of Goliath.

I’m afraid that anyone who absorbed the news from Lebanon and Gaza, and who does not believe in the principle of myriad eyes for an eye, has to say that Israel has pretty well earned that image of late.

THIS IS not to say, however, that the world sees the Palestinians or
Hizbullah and its followers as a bunch of little Davids, or innocents. The Nation Brands Index didn’t measure the popularity of the Palestinian Authority, or south Lebanon, or Syria, or Iran; if it had, Israel might not have finished last on the list. The world’s consumers don’t want anything to do with terrorists and Islamic fanatics, either. They’re sick and tired of Israel and its enemies. They think we’re all crazy, and they’re basically right (even though I would say Israel is still less crazy than its enemies, and a lot less crazy than the worst of them).

So the standard hasbara approach of insisting that Israel is 100% right
while the Arabs are 0% right, that Arab violence is strictly aggression while Israeli violence is strictly self-defense, and that Israel’s hand is perpetually outstretched in peace but the Arabs only want to exterminate us – that approach is doomed. It only works on the home crowd – those who love nothing more than cheering Israel and booing the Arabs – and they, obviously, don’t need convincing. To any disinterested, balanced observer of the friction between Israel and its neighbors, the standard hasbara approach is ridiculously one-sided, propagandistic, not to be taken seriously at all.

AS FOR “rebranding” – which means changing the subject from “the conflict” to all the cool and groovy things about Israel – this is insipid. This is an insult to people’s intelligence. It’s an attempt to airbrush certain little details – specifically, endless war and hatred – out of the Israeli picture in the belief that people are too dumb to notice, and that they will begin associating Israel not with war and hatred, but with dancing in Tel Aviv and hi-tech in Herzliya Pituah.

And in the face of continuous, utter failure, the hasbara army marches on. In her story on the Nation Brands Index, The Jerusalem Post’s Tovah Lazaroff reported: “The Foreign Ministry’s Director of Public Affairs Amir Gissin said the survey underscored for him the importance of the new nation-branding drive Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni launched this fall.”

However, Simon Anholt, head of Nation Brands Index, drew the opposite conclusion, reported Lazaroff: “The most persuasive and memorable facts, unfortunately for Israel, were about the conflict, so the image of Israel as a bully was more likely to stick in people’s minds rather than the idea of Israel as an expert in solar energy, Anholt said. These images are ‘so negative and powerful that they contaminated everything else in the index,’ Anholt said.”

PERSONALLY, I don’t care that much about Israel’s image. I know that
Muslims, on the whole, and hard-line leftists turn everything against Israel no matter what its enemies do, but I find that the Western world, in general, takes a fair view of Israel’s role in the conflict. I have no problem, for instance, with the coverage in CNN or The New York Times. And again, regarding those 25,000 consumers in the survey, my strong hunch is that they are at least as put off by Israel’s enemies as they are by Israel.

So I am not a soldier in the hasbara army. But if I was, and if I had
sufficient rank to influence that army’s battle plan, I’d suggest abandoning the children of light vs children of darkness theme and forget about the rebranding gimmick. Instead, I think the best way to win friends for Israel among the undecided out there is to lay off the propaganda and bullshit and talk like one reasonable, balanced, intelligent adult to another.

In other words, to say to people that Israel isn’t as good as its press
releases, nor as bad as its enemies say. To concede that Israel is sometimes in the wrong, sometimes too eager to fight, sometimes steps on its neighbors’ toes – but to remind people that the neighbors here include the likes of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah, so it’s not as if Israel’s fractious behavior comes out of nowhere; there have been, and continue to be, provocations. In all, we should admit frankly that while the Arabs owe us plenty of apologies, we owe the Arabs, certainly the Palestinians, some apologies of our own.

I think people in the world would be relieved to hear an Israeli message
like that – and they do hear it from Israelis like Amos Oz and David Grossman, who, I’m convinced, are much better, much more effective “spokesmen” for Israel than, say, Netanyahu or Dershowitz. They’re more believable. Their portrayal of Israel as a country that does wrong as well as right rings truer. It makes Israel seem a recognizable nation of human beings, instead of an impossible nation of coloring-book good guys.

But finally, the only thing that’s going to radically change the world’s
opinion of Israel is a return to a peace process worth the name, such as the one that went on between Israel and Egypt, and, for a few years, between Israel and the Palestinians. All the rest is hasbara, which, we should know by now, is a losing strategy.

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Responses

  1. Liza, I couldn’t agree more. This is an excellent article, in my view. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Hi again Liza!

    I also thought that Derfner made some good points in that article (which I saw back when it was “fresh”). Why, oh why, isn’t this stuff as obvious to everyone as it should be?

    And don’t worry – I’ve always wanted to infiltrate a sorority!

  3. “So long as Israel inflicts many, many times more damage on its enemy than it suffers at the enemy’s hands – as was the case in Lebanon – Israel will come out looking bad.”

    Absolutely false. Israel’s popularity was at an all time high after the Six Day War and that is the only one of Israel’s major wars where it has been said that Israel attacked first.

    By the way, this whole thing is NOT about whether Israel is ever right or wrong, it’s that worldwide media has been dwelling on Israel for 6 years straight. The most minor Israeli wrongdoings become front page news while qassams launched into Israel are honestly never reported or relegated to back page blurts. Also, articles are written before the facts come out. To use some European politicians’ favourite word, there is a “disproportionate” amount of media coverage regarding Isreal’s bad behavior. You live in Israel so you don’t see this.

  4. But, but… I’m not North American. Does that mean I can’t be considered part of your “Sorority”?!

    Good call to link to the very true Derfner article. And name calling is always easier for people than admitting that they might actually be full of hot air.

  5. “So long as Israel is seen in the media beating the crap out of Arabs, especially Arab civilians, it will be judged a bully, and nobody likes a bully. [etc.].”

    This sounds like you don’t want to win any more. Do you think the world will feel sorrier for you if you lose? And do you really want your leaders to take that chance?

    To an outsider, it seems your main problem is that Israel is very badly led right now. The world didn’t like Sharon by much, but it respected him. Olmert and Peretz come across as amateurs, as muppets. If they were doing their jobs properly, you wouldn’t need the likes of Dershowitz and Melanie Phillips to do it for you. And please, don’t slag off at those of us around the world who are doing our best for you.

    Where I agree with Derfner is forget the Tel Aviv night life, the environment friendly hi-tech. In the world’s debate about Israel they don’t count for anything. Israel is viewed exclusively through the prism of the conflict with the Palestinians.

    Again from an outsider’s perspective, the problem that the proponents of hasbara need to face up to is that the Israel-Palestine conflict is no longer a matter of fact or history. It is a matter of mythology. We and you are not engaged with arguments about right and wrong, what happened or didn’t happen. We are engaged with belief systems, with irrational constructs and extemporisations. That’s why hasbara has failed. You can’t talk reason to the unreasonable; it doesn’t work.

    My advice (unasked for and no doubt unwelcome): grit your teeth, slug through it, do what you need to do to preserve your selves and your state, stop agonising, and wait for the times to change.

    At the moment, Israel-Palestine is a problem without a solution. You can tinker around the edges, build bridges across a few blogs, but it won’t amount to much in the big scheme of things. Admit it is so.

    Some time when the stars are in the right alignment, as happened in South Africa, the moment will be the birth of the solution. Until then, be patient.

    (Fully expecting a serve from Liza for that one.)

  6. “Instead, I think the best way to win friends for Israel among the undecided out there is to lay off the propaganda and bullshit and talk like one reasonable, balanced, intelligent adult to another.”

    Hallelujah! Good link.

  7. I think some of you on here are forgetting that most Israelis had Palestinian friends or co-workers pre-intifadah. They worked for and with Israelis, sometimes lived with them, etc. That didn’t stop most of them from turning on their friends when the intifadah began. I could tell you a few stories my family in Israel encountered and they would blow your mind. Some other Israeli bloggers have written some experiences on this and they were very interesting.

    You guys are pretending that connections were never made and bridgers were never built. Reaching out “to the other side” had been going on for decades and seemed successful, but when the guys with the guns started calling for Jihad against Israelis most of these people on the other side forgot their friends. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try anyway, but I wouldn’t expect any miracles. When the next war breaks out, you will feel very let down.

    History has been re-written that the current situation and Israeli presence in the West Bank, for example, has been like that for 40 years. We all know that is not the case. People now have the impression that all of the current checkpoints have been there for 40 years. That the situation hasn’t changed in 40 years. They have no idea what the West Bank was like before the intifadah. You guys also have no idea how many seemingly intelligent and educated people, yes even in the US, are calling for Israel’s dismantling and destruction. By not responding to the lies or misinformation, you are just contributing to their POV.

  8. Forget being liked. Anti-Semitism makes that impossible.

    What is important is to be feared by your enemies.

    There was a time when the Israeli military was considered the best in the world. But after this lost that just isn’t the case.

    Some whining and start fighting. If they are going to hate you anyway give them something to hate you for!

  9. When it comes to war a citizen should be an uncritical supporter of their country.

    After all, they want their soldiers to prevail, to defeat the enemy with the fewest casualties to their troops as possible.

    If they don’t feel that way they should renounce their citizenship and move from their country to a country they can support.

  10. i won’t comment on derfner here right now. i think his approach is exactly wrong. but that’s what we’re trying to discuss. so let me repeat what i said at the bottom of the 70+ comment list on the previous post here:

    this is too complicated and involved to pursue here. reading DR’s remarks, i realize the ways in which my comments can lead to misunderstandings, and way’s i’ve misunderstood others’ comments. i think we need to meet and discuss this. is there an interest in a meeting either in tel aviv or jerusalem?
    i’d be up for a meeting early next week (i leave for europe till late january on thursday), but i have to write up policy recommendations on israel and the blogosphere, and i’d like consult with those unhappy with the tenor of the conferences remarks before writing that section.
    please respond to me at rl.seconddraft@gmail.com and extend this invitation to those who might be interested.

  11. Levana – you’re right, it did used to be different.
    Remember though that the first intifada started almost 20 years ago, and things never went back after that. There is a whole generation of Israelis (current soldiers) and Palestinians (young militants) who don’t remember and whose whole experience of their counterpart is at the other end of a gun.

  12. Lisoosh, my whole point is that you guys were as close as you were going to get and a lot closer than you will ever be in the future, and it STILL didn’t help matters. They KNEW you were human and you knew they were human. Did it stop them at all? You are acting as if you are friendly with a handful of Palestinians (and that’s fine and nice of course) that it is going to change the course of the Middle East but if you seriously look at what’s happened in the past this whole thing is going to end in even more tears.

    You guys should continue b/c it seems to make you happy but you should shift your focus to the court of international opinion where it is common for educated people to insist that Israel is a mistake that should be corrected immediately. Let me give you an example that will help you understand. I have a friend who was born in Israel. He could probably be characterized as Chomsky Lite. Anyhow, this guy has major issues with Israel BUT he draws the line at seeing it dismantled or destroyed. However, he was at a party thrown by his graduate school chums and several people refused to speak with him as they considered him a “Zionist.”

  13. The man is a very articulated idiot. Stop wasting your blog space to such empty discourse.

  14. Levana –
    I know about the really radical left wing nut jobs, I follow several of their blogs in order to track what they are saying. However:
    a. They are nut jobs and they don’t want to hear what we have to say anyway. They don’t even have the balls to spend time around Israelis because they are afraid they might like them and that would destroy their supposed “moral clarity”.
    b. They are secondary to the problem which is crap relations between Palestinians and Israelis.
    c. For now at least the left wing nut jobs aren’t lobbing qassams or tying bombs to themselves.

    The biggest risk is that they might actually manage to convince more influential people to stop spending money in Israel or donating to it.
    That just supports Dons thesis on the other thread.

    Secondly, for all the talk about Palestinian propaganda, plenty of people have a lot to say about the pernicious anti-Israeli propaganda within the Palestinian territories. Interestingly, not one has shown any interest in combating that, which is insanely stupid. They just continue to focus on “international opinion” which really means they want Israel to look more convincing to their immediate community. My guess, many are embarrassed by things they see from Israel and rather than put pressure on Israel to change the way they do things they tie themselves up in knots trying to work out how to market events to the rest of the world.

    Finally – yes there was a lot less animosity years ago. But don’t forget – we still had complete control over them, politically, economically and militarily. They were cheap labour for Israeli companies and agriculture, had no political rights or representation and their home villages are under a completely different legal system from Israel coming under the military. Close? How close can you be with that kind of disparity? Things were relatively peaceful, what did we do as a nation to resolve the Palestinians status and ensure things stayed relatively peaceful? We get a pass for the first few years after ’67 as Israel anticipated returning the territories Jordan and Egypt for peace, but after that? We do a real good job talking about how the Palestinians miss opportunities, but how about the opportunities we missed?
    And over the last 20 years things have deteriorated in stages. The first intifada really was stone throwers. Do you remember Israels policy at that time? Break the arms that throw the stones. Really something to be proud of. Lets see someone “ma’asbir” that.
    Once it was different. That was the past. What do we have now? We have a large Palestinian population, the majority of whom only know Israelis in military uniform and down the barrel of a gun. There is a large Palestinian propaganda movement, fuelled by militias looking for cannon fodder, whose purpose is to denigrate Israelis, to convince themselves that Israelis are genocidal Pigs/Monkeys. It is a lot easier to kill someone you believe is trying to kill you, and a lot of Palestinians are absolutely convinced that Israel wants to wipe them out completely.
    Tell me something – what are you doing, what is anyone doing to combat that propaganda? You want a better position on the international stage – fix the problem at home. You want Israel to look good – stop doing stupid things. You want Palestinians to not want to kill Israelis – they need to stop thinking we want to kill them.

    The current mess isn’t all our fault, but its not all their fault, or the MSN’s fault either, we all had a hand in it. We can’t fix the others, but we can fix our own part in this dance.

  15. Joaquim R, in Canada said…
    The man is a very articulated idiot.

    Do you mean he has lots of joints?

  16. You cannot dismiss the anti-Israel people as “radical left-wing nutjobs” as much as we all want to. These people have become VERY mainstream on the left here in America and especially in Europe. I don’t think you understand the extent of the problem. I live here and see it every day, for example: Did you see the headline today that “Israel Threatens to Renew Attacks.” Excuse me, what about the rockets that haven’t stopped attacking Israel? Have we seen any articles on that? I mean this is being force fed to the public and this example is the least of it. This is what Richard, Judith etc are trying to combat.

    Everyone knows Israel has made a lot of mistakes. Just know that a lot of what you write (and I don’t mean you specifically, I haven’t read your blog) will be used by anti-Israel people as evidence for your destruction. I think you should fear who you call the “radical left” but who are really mainstream because they do have more impact on Israel than a handful of Palestinians. Let’s be honest these people who you are talking to are not putting on masks and shooting at Israel every night.

    Questions: Do you think the deal at Camp David was a fair/acceptable deal? Do you support Right of Return?

    BTW I think you are 100% wrong that people (ie me) who want you to convince the Int’l Community that you are in the right (or at least not evil) are embarrassed by Israel’s actions. Au contraire, we are embarrassed that every nation in the world is allowed to respond to terror with no questions asked (Afghanistan) while Israel’s actions are looked at under a microscope. I can only speak for Americans, and on the whole we are a lot more right-wing than Israelis. That doesn’t mean that the left are not gaining steam and I am telling you they are thisclose to announcing the Israel project should come to an end.

  17. Have to say I completely agree with levana. You need to understand how closely the mainstream left has moved toward an extirpationist position, not least in adopting large slabs of the jihadis’ rhetoric themselves.

    A lot of this is fulled by the misreporting of events such as Qana. Israel’s moral case in the summer war evaporated as soon as those images hit CNN. Yet we know, thanks to bloggers like EU Referendum, that what we saw was a staged propaganda event.

    It did not matter at all to international opinion that Israel “did the decent thing”:immediately apologised, halted the aerial attacks for 48 hours and ordered an enquiry. A few days later hundreds of thousands of (mainly left-wing) people around the world rallied under the Hizbollah flag calling for the end of Israel. “Palestine will be free, etc.”

  18. Rob, Why would I have a go at you for your first comment? We may have differing opinions, but you weren’t rude, obnoxious, patronizing, etc (or any one of a growing number of adjectives I could use to describe some of the commenters I’ve come across during this thread). Truly, I have absolutely no problem with comments like yours.

    That being said, when you write something like “This sounds like you don’t want to win any more,” I immediately think that our definitions of winning are different. If we bring the Palestinians to their knees, I’m not sure I see that as a win. I’ve got a problem with using too much violence in order to score the win.

    You are absolutely right about the Israeli leadership, although despite how bad it is, an even bigger problem is that there isn’t anyone better!

  19. Liza, I thought you gave Henry Jackman a bit of a hard time at On the Face, so I expected no less. I agreed with much of what he said, unpalatable though it might have seemed.

    As to winning, “[bringing] the Palestinians to their knees” is not at all what I intended to convey — rather that Israel has to find a military solution to the aggression of Hamas and Hizbollah. Forgive me if I seem presumptuous, but you won’t talk them into putting down their weapons.

  20. Rob, You weren’t patronizing or condescending. His tone was so much of both. Despite the way I’m sure I come across here sometimes, the people that have actually met me or gotten to know me via email will probably (hopefully!) tell you that I’m actually a nice person. If a person shows me respect (even if they disagree), I’ll be equally respectful back. You’d be amazed by how many people aren’t capable of that.

    I’m not sure about the military solution, as in the long run, I don’t think that anything good will come of it. I think that under certain circumstances, the military will have to be used, though I’m not terribly happy about it. For example, I believe that we have to act against the cells firing the kassams in Sderot, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure how. Indiscriminate attacks against civilians or a major incursion into Gaza just won’t do it, and in my opinion, both would be wrong. Some may say something to the effect that they are doing it to us, but so what? What does it say about us if we are choose to sink to the level of terror cells firing rockets?

    As far as Hizballah, well, we did a horrible job during the war last summer, and seeing how things are on the ground in Lebanon these days, I think we made a bad situation even worse. Going after them militarily isn’t going to solve anything – we’ve already proven that. Should we talk to them? No, but we should be prepared to talk to the Lebanese government (not that they will talk to us, and not that I would blame them after what we did to their country), which desperately needs to be strengthened these days.

  21. Liza, I hear and respect everything you are saying.

    Can I say perhaps a couple of things. If you fight a war you must fight it with the weapons of war. That means people are going to get killed. And please, I’m not being patronising. Your IDF fights with precision artillery that can track originating rockets to the point of launch. That’s what Olmert is talking about by “pinpoint” attacks, I think. It’s accurate, but not infallible (see Don Radlauer’s excellent post at his site on this point from a few days back). True precision strikes with no collateral damage cannot ever be guaranteed, especially if the opposition’s weapons are fired from areas populated by civilians. So another Beit Hanoun may well occur. Indeed, it will. Brace yourselves.

    So what do you do. What do you do. Do you say to the people of Sderot and Ashkelon, as Olmert has been in effect saying since the ceasefire was declared: I’m sorry, but your fear and pain and the maiming of your children is just the capital that Israel puts in the bank to build up its international goodwill account? But you can’t keep saying it forever.

    The ultimate responsibility of any democratic government is to use the power of the state to protect its people and territory from armed attack. The people of Sderot have every right to demand it.

    FWIW, despite what I’ve said about Israel’s bad leadership, I think Olmert has been doing the right thing. If I lived in Sderot, though, of course I would think very differently. I would think that the government was sacrificing me and mine on the altar of political expedience.

    Both perspectives are right.

    Do you see how difficult it must be, when you are the ones that have to actually make the decision? How hard it is to find the balance between restraint and aggression.

    Of course military force will not solve anything in the long-term. This isn’t WWII. But what to do in the short-term? What are you to do now about the Qassams? How are you to protect your southern towns — for now, whatever might eventuate in the future, which is in any event completely unknowable.

    The military option is unavoidable. It might be pointless, it might be fruitless, it might make things all the worse. Then again, it might not. But the cruel fact is that it has to be deployed now. There is no other option with the rockets raining down. Hopefully not forever, but for now.

    And I think that fact was true during the summer war in Lebanon also, however badly that may have turned out.

    If I’m wrong about any of this, I’m happy to be put right.

  22. While I part company w. Derfner in some of his ideas (that Israel is hated by the entire Muslim & left world for example), he’s entirely right about his take on hasbara. It’s a useless venture, at least as envisioned by the government & the Zionist right.

    Gissin also hopelessly misunderstands Aholt’s point in the NBI–which is that no amount of hasbara can replace real, substantive policies that bring peace bet. Israel & its neighbors.

    I’ve written an elaborate analysis of the NBI survey at my blog.

  23. I wrote an article a few weeks ago inspired in part by Derfner – http://web.israelinsider.com/Views/10128.htm


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